Happy Boxing Day! Hope everyone is having a great weekend! Congratulations to Gillian, who won last week’s drawing for a Vienna Waltz ARC. Gillian, watch for an email from me so I can get your address and send the ARC on its way.
This week’s post is another excerpt from Vienna Waltz. When I was writing Vienna Waltz, I posted on Twitter and Facebook about writing an “almost love scene” which prompted some pleas to post the scene. Here it is. It occurs in the middle of the book but doesn’t contain major spoilers. Mélanie/Suzanne has been winged by a bullet in the course of the investigation, and Charles/Malcolm is feeling guilty. I plot my books in advance in a fair amount of detail, but this scene took me a bit by surprise, because I wasn’t planning on a romantic interlude here.
Once again, I’ll be giving away an ARC to one of this week’s commenters. I’ll draw a name and post the winner next weekend.
I’ve also just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mélanie to Raoul.
“I’m ten times a fool.” Charles struck a flint to the tapers on the dressing table in their bedchamber. The smell of beeswax filled the night air.
Mélanie twisted round on the dressing table bench to look at her husband. Her dressing gown, which she was half-wearing, leaving her injured shoulder bare, slithered down on the bench about her. “You weren’t the one who had someone sneak up behind you with a drawn pistol.”
“No, I was engaged in a charade in the next room while someone put a knife to my wife’s throat.” He pulled a brandy flask and a clean handkerchief from a drawer in the dressing table.
“Charles, I’ll never forgive you if you turn into a Hotspur or a Brutus. Not now.”
“At least Hotspur and Brutus weren’t so wantonly careless with their wives.” He doused the handkerchief with brandy and pressed it to her shoulder.
She winced at the touch of the alcohol against her torn skin. “It’s barely a scratch.”
“You could have been killed.”
“So could you. Tonight, last night. Most nights I’ve known you.”
Charles opened another drawer and took out the brass-bound box where she kept her medical supplies. Usually she was the one patching him up. Geoffrey Blackwell had trained her well. “I chose this life.”
“And you think I didn’t?” She stared up at him. In the flickering light from the tapers, his face was unusually grim, all sharp angles and intense eyes. “Darling, I knew what you did when I married you. I knew I’d never be able to bear being your wife if it meant sitting on the sidelines or waiting like Penelope to see if you came back alive. If you wanted that sort of wife you shouldn’t have married me, however strong your chivalrous impulses.”
He flipped open the lid of the medical box and clipped off a length of lint. “When I married you–“ He gave an unexpected smile. “I hadn’t the least idea what I was getting into.”
“We barely knew each other.” She saw them the night he proposed, on a moonlit balcony overlooking the Tagus River. A romantic setting for a very unromantic scene. Charles had explained what he was offering her with all the precision with which he’d outline a policy option to Lord Castlereagh, pointing out that his parents had given him a bad impression of marriage, that he’d never thought to marry, and that he feared he wouldn’t be very good at it. Not so very long ago, yet when she recalled the scene the two people standing on that balcony seemed so very young. “Marriage has a way of opening the eyes.”
“So they say.” He pressed a pad of lint against her shoulder. “Though in many ways–“
“We’re still strangers?”
“We haven’t had time. For much of anything.”
“Beyond strategizing our next move.”
“This isn’t a game, Mel.” He took her hand and put it over the lint. “Hold this.”
She pressed the pad of lint against her shoulder. “Oh, darling, the whole Congress is a game. But the stakes are the fate of countries and lives hang in the balance. That’s why I won’t be left on the sidelines.
Charles began to unwind a length of linen. “I know you have the heart of a lion, Mel. But I sometimes think–“
He snapped the scissors on the linen. “That marrying you was the most selfish thing I’ve ever done.”
For a moment, her blood went ice-cold. “That’s ridiculous, Charles. Marrying me was an act of kindness. We both know that.”
He turned to look down at her, his gaze night-black. “Is that what you think?”
She returned his gaze, her own steady. “I know the man you are. I know what I owe you.”
“For God’s sake, don’t–“
“I don’t ask a lot. Only not to be wrapped in cotton wool while you go off on your adventures.”
He bound the linen round her shoulder with deft, precise fingers. “When have I ever tried to wrap you in cotton wool?”
“Just now. It’s the one thing–the only thing–I won’t tolerate from you, Charles.”
“Damn it, Mel, if you think–“
He pulled her to her feet and caught her in his arms with unexpected force. His fingers sank into her hair. His mouth came down hard on her own.
She clung to him without hesitation, parting her lips, clutching the fabric of his coat, pulling him closer.
He was the one who drew back abruptly. “I’m sorry. I–“
“No.” She dragged him back to her with a hunger that matched his own.
This at least was real between them. His fingers sliding into her hair, the silk of his dressing gown bunched beneath her fingers, the ragged warmth of his breath on her skin, his mouth hot and desperate against her own.
He kissed her as though he could keep her safe. She held him to her as though she could strip away his mask and find the truth of who he was. Brand him with recognition of what was between them.
When he raised his head, it was only to lift her in his arms. He carried her to their bed and she lost herself in the familiarity of his hands and the tantalizing mystery of his lips against her own.